Will of a Tiger
By Iris Yang
In 1942, Birch Bai, a Chinese pilot, and Danny Hardy, a downed American pilot, become sworn brothers and best friends.
In the summer of 1945, both airmen’s planes go down in Yunnan Province of China during one of many daring missions. They are captured, imprisoned, and tortured by the Japanese for information about the atomic bomb. Just days before the end of WWII, Danny makes an irrevocable decision to save Birch's life.
For Birch, surviving the war is only the beginning of the battle. He must deal with the dreadful reality in China—the civil war, the separation of the country, the death of one friend in the Communist-controlled Mainland and another under the Nationalist government, and his wrongful imprisonment in Taiwan.
From Chungking to Yunnan, and from Taiwan to San Francisco, the sequel to Wings of a Flying Tiger takes readers along on an epic journey.
On the third day, Birch Bai left early in the morning without telling anyone where he was going. He didn’t even know. He wanted to go to Dead Man’s Pass where Daisy had died, but he didn’t think he could make it that far. So he focused on getting to a cave where Danny and the two girls had lived. It had taken him and Daisy several hours to get there. This time it seemed to take forever. Hiking up a rugged mountain was very different from walking on the smooth and level ground where he’d exercised.
The leaves had changed color. Different shades of green and yellow painted the dense forest. A last batch of wildflowers dotted the edge of the woods. Tree branches stretched over the trail, offering dappled shade, breaking the sunlight into dozens of golden beams. As far as he could see, the uneven path continued upward.
Birch considered turning back. Instead, he pushed onward. The cave was like a magnet, luring him forward.
He rolled his sleeves back to the elbows. His white shirt turned soggy from perspiration, dried in the cool mountain breeze, and soon dampened again. From time to time he wiped a clammy palm on his pants to get a better grip on his cane. Every step became a test of will.
All the while, Birch appreciated what Danny had done four years earlier—the Flying Tiger had had to hop on one leg up the mountainside. Even with his help, and Daisy’s support, the task had been more than challenging. Birch thrust his right hand into his pants pocket, touching the small medicine bottle left by his brother.
Not far from the cave, his prosthetic leg started to give him trouble. It had been hours. He was exhausted. His thigh cramped while he was stepping over two rocks. His leg gave up power, and he stepped into an irregular gap between the rocks. The cane failed to catch him. Birch fell, landing hard on the surface. Pain raced up his leg.
He cursed his luck. Half sitting and half lying on the rock, he folded his arms around the cramped thigh and hugged it to his chest, trying to suppress the pain. Blood leaked through his pant leg where the amputated stump met the socket, and a large piece of skin on his left elbow was scraped.
But the pain was only a small part of his dismay. An athlete all his life, Birch felt defeated by his inadequacy. Hiking and rock climbing were once his preferred pastime. Now he was hindered by his injuries.
A small cluster of forget-me-nots bloomed an arm’s length away, reminding him of Danny and Jasmine. He turned his head, keeping his eyes averted, and expelled his frustration in a gust of breath.
Legs stretched before him, Birch remained motionless until his heartbeat calmed and the sweat stopped pouring from his face. He pushed himself to full height and gathered his waning energy. Shutting his mind to the pain in his leg, he pressed onward, despite the protests of every bone, joint, and muscle.
His shirt was so wet with perspiration that when he tried to dust himself off, he left streaks of mud wherever he touched. Xiao Mei kept his clothes clean and starched. He wondered what she would think when she saw him.
By midafternoon Birch finally reached the bottom of the cave. A steep cliff, about one hundred feet, stood in front of him. A natural rock staircase led straight up. Last time he was here, he hadn’t thought twice before he climbed. Even Daisy had done it with just a few cries. But there was no way for him to get up now. He sank onto the first step of the stair to catch his breath.
He longed to see the hideout where Danny and the girls had lived. Four years earlier, he’d met the Flying Tiger for the first time when he came here to pick him up. Danny wouldn’t leave without Jasmine, the woman he loved. Birch had to coax the Flying Tiger, and they left in a hurry. Birch remembered the pictures Jasmine had drawn on the rock wall, even though he’d glanced at them only briefly. The scenes were so striking and familiar.
Two hawks drifted high above him in the vivid blue sky. Birch looked enviously at the birds. He wished he could soar as they did. Danny was up there. Jack stood next to him. And the two young women looked at them in admiration. Now he was so close, barely a whisper away, yet a world apart. He couldn’t reach the spot where he yearned to be.
A soft wind rustled the birch woods, sending golden leaves whirling around him. The lush hillside was awe-inspiring under warm sunlight. Facing the gorgeous scenery, Birch also thought of Mary. His ex-girlfriend had never been outdoorsy. She preferred museums, concerts, and movies. However, when he told her about the cave, she’d been intrigued. “Promise to take me there, Birch. I’d love to see it. I’ll borrow my cousin’s camera. Those pictures will have historical significance.”
He’d been thrilled that Mary had agreed to hike up the mountain with him. She was different from most young women; she was his equal. Now he was here, but Mary and her camera were nowhere to be found. Only the ring on his left pinky reminded him of her.
Through the trees, the glowing sun slanted little by little toward the horizon. Birch just sat there, thinking, dreaming, and smoking cigarettes one after another.
Finally he stabbed the cigarette out on the sole of his boot, stood up, and faced the bluff. Raising his long arms, he searched the rocky step above to find a good grip. This is what Danny had done four years ago. As he groped for the cracks with his fingers, he wondered if these were the same spots his brother had touched. Taking a deep breath, and using the strength of his arms and left leg, he jumped. He was successful, landing on the first step.
The second one was much harder. The foothold was higher and smaller. Danny had failed when he tried. Now Birch understood why. Landing precisely on the small surface was impossible. Danny had been lucky to have people like the herbalist and the teenage boy to catch him when he fell. Falling now without anyone to help him would be dreadful. It could do more damage to his already battered body. And even if he miraculously made it, there was no way he could reach the top. I’ll be back, he declared.
Climbing the cliff became his goal. He vowed he would exercise more vigorously and grow stronger. He promised himself that he would make it to the top. Not just to the cave, I’ll reach Dead Man’s Pass as well. I swear!
Iris Yang, Ph.D. (Qing Yang) was born and raised in China. She has loved reading and writing since she was a child, but in China creative writing was a dangerous career. As famous writers and translators, her grandmother and her aunt were wrongfully accused as counter-revolutionary Rightists, so Iris had to choose a safer path—studying science.
After graduating from Wuhan University and passing a series of exams, she was accepted by the prestigious CUSBEA (China-United States Biochemistry Examination and Application program). At age 23, with poor English, little knowledge of the country, and 500 borrowed dollars, she came to the United States as a graduate student at the University of Rochester.
Later, she received a Ph.D. in molecular biology, trained as a postdoctoral fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and worked at the University of North Carolina. Although she has published a number of scientific papers, she has a passion for creative writing, and her short stories have won contests and have been published in anthologies. Her debut novel, Wings of a Flying Tiger, has been published in June, 2018, and its sequel, Will of a Tiger, has been published in January, 2019.
Currently, Iris is working on a story based on her grandmother, who was the first Chinese woman to receive a master’s degree in Edinburgh in the UK. Iris now lives between Sedona, Arizona and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Besides writing, she loves hiking, dancing, photography and travel, and she holds a private pilot license.